The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has said that methane emissions must be reduced by up to 30% if the agriculture sector is to meet the lower range of national climate targets.

The agency said that this will be required to achieve a 22% reduction in emissions from the sector compared to 2018, as committed to in the 2021 Climate Action Plan.

It said that the industry must clearly set out how this will be achieved to address uncertainty regarding its ability to deliver on its sectoral targets by 2030.

EPA report

In its report published today (Wednesday, June 1), Ireland’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions Projections 2021-2040, the EPA includes an assessment of the progress made on achieving national emissions targets.

The EPA said that total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are estimated to have increased by 6% in 2021.

The agency said that urgent implementation of all climate plans and policies, plus further new measures, are needed for Ireland to meet the 51% emissions reduction target and put Ireland on track for climate neutrality by 2050.

Image Source: EPA

The report highlighted that there is currently a significant gap between the government’s recently-approved carbon budgets and projected emissions.

All sectors need to do significantly more to meet their 2030 national emissions reduction targets, the agency warned.

The EPA said that the challenge is “particularly evident in the agriculture sector”.

Under the “with existing measures” scenario, agricultural emissions are projected to increase by 1.9% over the 2020-2030 period.

“Methane emissions will need to reduce by up to 30% to meet the lower range of its 2021 Climate Action Plan target,” the agency noted.

The EPA said that Ireland can meet a 30% emission reduction by 2030 (compared to 2005) if planned policies and measures are implemented and available flexibilities are used.

This includes a land-use flexibility using the Climate Action Plan 2021 afforestation rate of 8,000ha/annum.

The end of Covid-19 travel restrictions is projected to result in transport emissions increasing by 18-19% from 2020 to 2022.

Emissions from the sector are projected to reduce to 39% below 2018 levels by 2030 if the additional measures set out in plans and policies are implemented.

This includes over 940,000 electric vehicles on the road by 2030, increased biofuel blend rates and measures to support more sustainable transport.

Image Source: EPA

Under the additional measures scenario, renewable energy is projected to increase to 78% of electricity generation by 2030 with emissions from the energy industry decreasing by 10% per annum from 2021-30.

The EPA noted that increased coal use from 2021 and growing energy demand, including from data centres, threaten to negatively impact achievement of national targets.

Commenting on the report, director general of the EPA, Laura Burke said:

“The data shows that a step up in both the implementation of actions already set out in plans and policies and the identification of new measures is needed.

“All sectors have work to do, in particular the agriculture sector. As the largest contributor of national emissions, more clarity is needed on how and when it will implement actions to reduce methane within the ever-shortening timeframe to 2030.

The Minister for the Environment, Climate and Communications, Eamon Ryan welcomed the publication of the latest EPA findings.

“We must ensure that sectors hit their respective goals to reduce emissions. In addition, I will soon bring recommendations on sectoral emissions ceilings before Cabinet.

“It is anticipated that all sectors will find these ceilings challenging. However, we must all strive to ensure that the final agreed targets align with the carbon budgets, already approved by the Dáil, and ultimately with the Climate Act 2021,” he said.

“In addition, we will have to meet our legally-binding European targets which are going to be more ambitious than previously.

“This may seem daunting, but too often people overestimate what we can do in a year but underestimate what we can do in a decade,” the minister added.

ICMSA response

Commenting on the EPA report, Irish Creamery Milk Suppliers’ Association (ICMSA) president, Pat McCormack, said it was becoming harder and more difficult to put forward any kind of considered and data-based suggestion on lowering agri-emissions, “when the atmosphere around this enormously complex issue was itself becoming steadily more shrill, simplistic, and overtly anti-farmer”.

McCormack added that every time farmers engaged with those demanding more restrictions and regulations and tried to plan a sustainable way forward, the process was overtaken by another new report with “implied additional anti-farmer proposals and targets”.

Nothing was possible, said the ICMSA president, if policy was going to be made ‘on the hoof’ and in response to the latest report.

“We have to know where we are now if we are to have any chance of getting to where we all know we need to be,” McCormack said.